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Year : 2018  |  Volume : 12  |  Issue : 24  |  Page : 139-156  

Plants used for cosmetics in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa: A case study of skin care

School of Biology and Environmental Sciences, University of Mpumalanga, Mbombela, 1200, South Africa

Date of Web Publication12-Oct-2018

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Idowu Jonas Sagbo
School of Biology and Environmental Sciences, University of Mpumalanga, Mbombela Campus, Private Bag X11283, Mbombela 1200
South Africa
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/phrev.phrev_9_18

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Cosmetology is the science of change of appearance and has been practiced since ancient times. In South Africa, especially Eastern Cape, the concept of using plants for beautification finds its origin in the traditional medicine literature. Moreover, herbal extract as a whole or part thereof has been used since time immemorial for various ailments of the skin, hair, and for overall appearance. Recently, the interest of consumers in the use of herbal cosmetics has been stimulated by the decline of faith in modern cosmetic products based on the beliefs that herbal cosmetics contain natural ingredients that are less dangerous to the skin and thereby superior to synthetic cosmetics and the reference to successful historical use by different cultures. A number of South African plants have been evaluated for their cosmetic potential. In this article, we reviewed 105 plant species used by the people of Eastern Cape Province for various cosmetic purposes with a majority of them used for skin care (70 species) and dental care (6 species). These plants are distributed in 59 families with the Asteraceae being the most represented with 9 species, followed by Fabaceae (7 species), Asphodelaceae (5 species), Lamiaceae (4 species), Apocynaceae (3 species), Hyacinthaceae (3 species), and other families with two to one species each. The results of the studies conducted confirmed the potential of the Eastern Cape medicinal plants in cosmetic products and identified a number of promising species for further investigation as plant-based cosmetic agents.

Keywords: Cosmetics, Eastern Cape, herbal cosmetics, plants, skin care, South Africa

How to cite this article:
Sagbo IJ, Mbeng WO. Plants used for cosmetics in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa: A case study of skin care. Phcog Rev 2018;12:139-56

How to cite this URL:
Sagbo IJ, Mbeng WO. Plants used for cosmetics in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa: A case study of skin care. Phcog Rev [serial online] 2018 [cited 2019 Aug 22];12:139-56. Available from: http://www.phcogrev.com/text.asp?2018/12/24/139/243203

   Introduction Top

Beauty plays an important role in our day-to-day life. It is a very important source of inspiration in all areas of lives, thus providing pleasure or deep satisfaction to the sensations. Some are born with natural beauty while others are made beautiful esthetically. The word “beauty” is not associated with females only as is often thought, but males also used cosmetic products. According to the European Directive 93/95/EEC (European Commission), cosmetic products are referred to as “any substances or preparation intended for application to any external surface of the human body (epidermis, hair system, nails, lips, and external genital organs) or teeth including the mucosa membranes of the oral cavity with a view exclusively or mainly to cleaning, perfuming, or protecting them, changing their appearance and/or correcting body odour, and keeping them in good conditions.”[1] Currently, cosmeceutical industry is gaining popularity nowadays, as many cosmetic products are now being supplemented with natural ingredients. The term “natural” denotes as any element of the physical universe that is made by nature or found in nature. Sources of natural ingredients include water, land, mineral, fruits, flowers, leaves, and herbs.[2]

Plants have been the main source of all cosmetics since time immemorial, before the use of chemical-based cosmetics. Humans, indeed still, prefer using plant extracts for various cosmetic purposes. They used plant extracts for cleansing, beauty, health, well-being, and social status indicator. At present, there is an increased demand for herbal cosmetic products. This could be due to the perception that chemical-based cosmetics are dangerous to the skin and an increased awareness among consumer for herbal products triggered the request for natural products and natural extracts in cosmetic preparation. Herbal cosmetics are formulated, using different cosmetic ingredients to form the base in which one or more herbal ingredients are used to do magical wonders to an individual's skin as well as other parts of the body. Herbal cosmetics are also prepared in various types of formulation to ease of use. The formulations including ointments, creams, emulsions, powder solutions, and compacts can be employed based on the need. The legal requirement and regulatory procedures for herbal cosmetics are the same as that for chemical ingredients or moieties used in cosmetic formulations.[3],[4],[5] However, the significant growing interest in herbal cosmetic products has produced new opportunities in cosmeceutical market. This emerging pattern shift in cosmeceutical market continues to be driven by the growing demand for herbal products which is increasingly fascinating among young and elderly people worldwide.

In South Africa, most people prefer herbal products for their personal care to improve their beauty as these products supply the body with nutrients as they are devoid of synthetic chemicals and reported to have relatively fewer side effects.[6] In the Eastern Cape Province, herbal cosmetic products are more frequently bought from herbal shops, but in a few cases, they are still prepared at home, especially those used for skin care. Despite enormous advertising campaigns for new and improved cosmetic products, Xhosa men and women still prefer to use certain traditional vegetable and mineral cosmetics (imbhola yesiXhosa) for beauty, health, well-being, and as social status indicators in the Eastern Cape today. In line with this, it is worth reviewing the knowledge and usage of plants used in the Eastern Cape Province for various cosmetic purposes.

The search for plant products used in cosmetics is ongoing worldwide. A review by Chen et al.[7] reported the medicinal and cosmetic relevance of Aloe ferox, a fully explored plant in South Africa used in the herbal cosmetic formulation. An article from Vermaak et al.[8] also reported the importance of seed oil from six species used in the preparation of cosmetics. In this study, we focused on a comprehensive review of plants traditionally used for various cosmetic purposes in the Eastern Cape Province with a view to helping researchers and government agencies to prevent possible extinction of these plants. This study also provides guidance for future research on the scientifically underexploited plants.

   Materials and Methods Top

Ethnobotanical information regarding all 105 plant species was obtained through a comprehensive literature survey from Google Scholar, ScienceDirect, PubMed, Web of Science, and Library Search. All the available relevant data from medicinal plants were collated from literature review articles together with several relevant books (e.g., Hutchings et al., 1996; Van Wyk et al., 2009; Watt and BreyerBrandwijk, 1962). One hundred and seventy journals were retrieved, although emphasis was laid on the plants used in various cosmetic products when keywords such as scientific name of the plants and cosmetics were typed in.

   Results and Discussion Top

[Table 1] shows a more in-depth analysis of the specific plants used by the people of Eastern Cape for various cosmetics purposes such as skin care, dental care, hair care, and perfume care. Based on available information, over 105 plant species were identified as being used for cosmetic purposes applied topically or as a paste or infusion, traditionally by the people of Eastern Cape province of South African. Surprisingly, few of these plants have been scientifically investigated for cosmetic or pharmacological potential.
Table 1: List of medicinal plants used in the Eastern Cape Province for cosmetic purposes

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Skin care

The skin is one of the largest organs in the body, protecting the body from external or internal environmental factors. It plays a very significant role in terms of protection, thermoregulation, percutaneous adsorption, and sensory activities.[67] The skin comprises dermis, epidermis, and subcutaneous layers. The dermis is the layer of skin beneath which cushions the body from stress and strain while the epidermis (outermost layer of the skin) forms the waterproof, protective wrap over the body's surface. The subcutaneous layers attach the skin to underlying bone and muscle as well as supplying it with blood vessels and nerves. The acidic sebaceous secretions and surface structure of the skin are very aggressive toward many pathogens.[48] This is based on the fact that the rich blood and lymphatic supply of the dermis ensure that both specific and nonspecific immune responses can be quickly recruited against pathogens, thereby preventing them from attacking the skin. However, studies have also indicated that skins defense system may compromise if the surface is penetrated through injury, thereby enabling pathogens to invade the skin.[68]

Natural remedies have been used for years for the treatment of various skin conditions and a wide variety of dermatological disorders including inflammation, dermatitis, phototoxicity, and psoriasis. Although they are generally accepted by patients, their scientific investigation in respect to skin conditions is very limited. The natural remedies are very promising, but their true effects are unknown, so further investigations must be performed to assess clinical benefit.

Pharmacological activities with regard to skin care ethnobotanicals

Based on the ethnobotanical literature, 105 plant species are reportedly used traditionally by the people of Eastern Cape Province, South Africa, for various cosmetic purposes [Table 1]. Many of them have been reported to show activities which are directly associated with skin care. Activities such as wound healing, antioxidant, antityrosinase, and anti-inflammatory are reportedly common among the selected plant species listed in [Table 1]. [Table 2] gives an overview of the pharmacological properties of species associated with treating skin conditions which are scientifically explored but needs further scientific explorations.
Table 2: List of plants screened for skin care products

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Antioxidant activity

The free radicals are species capable of independent existence that contains one or more unpaired electrons in their outer shells. They are produced in living systems as a part of the normal physiological process.[69] They are also formed exogenously when reacting with various biomolecules present in the skin, thereby playing an important role in skin disorders.[10],[70] These radicals can be controlled naturally by various useful compounds known as antioxidants. Antioxidants generally are substances or radical scavengers that when present in low concentrations delay or prevent free radicals by inhibiting various oxidizing chain reactions.[10]

Plants are a very important source of natural antioxidants. Several scientific reports have indicated that plants contain a large variety of secondary metabolites (phytochemicals) that have antioxidant property.[71] Phytochemicals include flavonoids, tocopherols (delta > gamma > beta > alpha), carotenoids, phenols, beta-carotene, lycopene, sesamol, gossypol, anthocyanins, catechins, ellagic acid, lutein, resveratrol, cinnamic acids, benzoic acids, folic acid, ascorbic acid, and tocotrienols. These phytochemicals produced by plants are known as natural antioxidants or phytochemical antioxidants.[71] They are very effective in scavenging free radical formation, thereby promoting their decomposition and suppressing disorders. Studies also indicated that some phytochemical compounds such as plant phenolics prevent or inhibit the propagation of oxidative chain reactions, thus repairing the oxidative damage done to the body's cells.[2] However, it should be noted that antioxidant activity of plants varies according to the molecular structures of the compounds presence in the plant. This is as a result of the fact that molecular structures of individual compounds present in the plant extracts are the most important factor determining the antioxidant activity of a compound or plant.[72] [Table 2] shows some of the Eastern Cape plant species reported to exhibit antioxidant activity. Despite the fact that the antioxidant activity of some plants has been investigated, numerous plants still lack comprehensive scientific data to validate the pharmacological effects of the medicinal plants and their respective bioactive compounds.

Antityrosinase activity

Melanin plays a very significant role in humans. It is a pigment that is responsible for the color of the eyes, hair, and skin in humans.[73] It performs an important function in protecting the skin against ultraviolet (UV) light damage by absorbing UV radiation and removing reactive oxygen species.[74],[75] Melanin is secreted or produced by the melanocytes cells, which are circulated in the basal layer of the dermis, through a physiological process called melanogenesis (melanin production).[75],[76] The melanocyte cells produce two types of melanin pigments: eumelanin (black or brown) and pheomelanin (red or yellow). Nevertheless, the color of human skin and hair is determined by the type and distribution of melanin pigment produced. In general, people from different racial groups have more or less the same number of melanocyte cells; hence, the type of melanin produced depends on the functioning of the melanocytes, for example, people that are dark in complexion (darker skin) are genetically programmed to constantly produce higher levels of melanin than those with light skin.[75],[77],[78] This is as a result of the melanosome (organelles within the melanocyte cells) size and grouping. The melanosomes in terms of pigmentation are smaller and grouped in clumps in the light skin while they are larger single organelle in dark skin.

Tyrosinase, also known as polyphenol oxidase, is an important enzyme that is responsible for the production of melanin.[79] Overactivity of tyrosinase leads to overproduction of melanin (hyperpigmentation of the skin) and the abnormal biosynthesis of melanin pigments are responsible for skin disorders such as melisma and freckles.[80] Several compounds or chemicals have been reported to inhibit the catalytic activity of tyrosinase and disrupt the synthesis of melanin pigments.[81] Many of these compounds have a tyrosinase-inhibiting activity, leading to the decrease of total melanin production. Compounds such as kojic acid and arbutin have been reported to inhibit the catalytic activity of tyrosinase.[81] Several studies have also indicated that plants are very important tyrosinase inhibitors, which are used for depigmentation or for the disorder of hyperpigmentation of the skin. Many Eastern Cape medicinal plants have been investigated for their antityrosinase activity, and some of these have shown good antityrosinase activity [Table 2]. These plants among others include Aloe arborescens, A. ferox, Calodendrum capense, Cassipourea flanaganii, Leonotis leonurus, Lippia javanica, and Melianthus comosus. They have been reported to possess antityrosinase properties due to their action on tyrosinase enzyme to stop the production of melanin.[15],[44],[82]

Anti-inflammatory activity

Inflammation is the response of the organism to invasion by pathogens such as bacteria, parasite, or viruses. The inflammatory response is a critical protective reaction to irritation, injury, or infection. The typical clinical signs of inflammation include redness, heat swelling, loss of function, and pain.[83] However, inflammation of the skin can be categorized as either acute or chronic. Acute inflammation results from exposure to UV radiation or from contact with chemical irritants, while chronic inflammation occurs as a result of a sustained immune cell-mediated inflammatory response within the skin itself. There are various number of nuclear transcription factors that are responsible for the regulatory functions of the inflammatory response. Transcription factors include interleukin-1 (IL-1), IL-2, IL-6, IL-8, and tumor necrosis factor-alpha.

Many ethnobotanicals have previously been assessed using the different assays, with many of them showing significant anti-inflammatory activity. The structural and functional diversity of secondary metabolites (phytochemicals) in most plants has shown unique opportunities for the development of new chemotherapeutic agents for many inflammatory diseases. Some of the Eastern Cape plant species used for various skin care have been identified to possess anti-inflammatory effect [Table 2]. These plants include Acokanthera oppositifolia, Acacia karroo, Bowiea volubilis, Dodonaea viscosa, Elephantorrhiza elephantina, Erythrina lysistemon, Greyia flanaganii, Grewia occidentalis, Pelargonium sidoides, and Protea simplex reported to inhibit inflammatory enzyme.[46],[49],[84]

Wound healing

Wounds generally occur due to physical injuries that result in an opening or breaking of the skin. It can also occur as a result of thermal, chemical, and microbial assault on the skin. Wounds must be sterilized to avoid colonization by skin bacteria which can cause an infection. However, wound healing is a natural process that has the capacity to heal on its own; for fast healing, there is a need for appropriate treatment of damaged tissue.[85]

Medicinal plants have served as agents of wound healing since ancient times.[86] Many of the plants used by the people of Eastern Cape for such purposes include Centaurea benedicta, A. arborescens, Carpobrotus dimidiatus, Ficus natalensis, Gnidia anthylloides, Kniphofia drepanophylla, and Xysmalobium undulatum [Table 1]. There are also many herbal formulations which are used for wound treatment. For example, lotion made from the infusion of Calendula officinalis flowers in olive oil is used for treating sunburn, bed sores, and skin degeneration conditions. Therefore, some of the plant's species mentioned in [Table 1] and [Table 2] may be exploited for the formulation of herbal cosmetics used for wound treatment.

Ethnobotanically usage of plants from Eastern Cape for cosmetic potentials

A comprehensive description of the traditional usage, pharmacological activities, and phytochemical constituents of selected plants used by the people of the Eastern Cape Province for various cosmetic purposes are as follows:

Acokanthera oppositifolia (Lam.) Codd

A. oppositifolia (Apocynaceae) is an evergreen shrub or small tree with white latex. Locally, it is commonly known as iNtlungunyembe in Xhosa and inhlungunyembe in Zulu, and it is broadly distributed in South Africa (Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and Gauteng). Traditionally, the leaf pulp is applied into wounds and as a dressing to swollen part. The leaves are used in the form of a snuff to treat headaches or as a treatment for snake bites and in infusions for abdominal pains and convulsions.[87] The stems of the plant are chewed to relieve a toothache. The methanol and acetone extracts of A. oppositifolia have been reported to exhibit antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic activities.[87],[88] Four active compounds, lup-20 (29)-en-3 β-O-(3'-β-hydroxy) palmitate (1), a triterpene; lupeol (2), a cardiac glycoside; acovenoside A (3), and a sterol; β-sitosterol (4) isolated from seed of A. oppositifolia, exhibited strong antimicrobial activity.[150] The compound lup-20 (29)-en-3 β-O-(3'-β-hydroxy) palmitate exhibited antibacterial activity against Pseudomonas aeruginosa with minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) values of 7.81 μg/ml. However, lupeol also reported to exhibit remarkable antimicrobial activity against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, Aspergillus fumigatus, and Candida albicans with MIC values of 3.9, 0.24, and 3.9 μg/ml, respectively. On the other hand, acovenoside A was reported to inhibit the growth of Escherichia coli with MIC values of 0.98 μg/ml.[150] The observed activities of these compounds isolated from A. oppositifolia could probably be the reason why the plant is used for cosmetics by the people of Eastern Cape.

Aloe ferox Mill.

A. ferox (Asphodelaceae) is a tall single-stemmed aloe which is found in Cape coastal region of South Africa.[55] It is locally known as bitter aloe or red aloe (English); bitteraalwyn and bergaalwyn (Afrikaans); inhlaba (Zulu); and iKhala (Xhosa). Traditionally, the plant (leaves or roots) is applied locally or taken internally to treat skin-related diseases such as skin cancer, burn, psoriasis, dermatitis, and acne.[151] The gel-like flesh from the inside of the leaves is used as ingredients in cosmetic products and is reported to have wound healing properties. Studies have also indicated that Aloe gel can be added to several cosmetic products, for example, “Schweden bitters” which is found in many pharmacies contains bitter aloe.[152] Aloe preparations are considered to be safe to use, but some adverse effects such as hypersensitivity have been reported lately.[153] The biological activities such as antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral activities of this species have been widely reported.[82],[153] These activities of this plant are attributed to the presence of various chemical components.[153] Numerous classes of compounds such as anthraquinones, anthrone-c-glycosides, chromones, and phenolics have been isolated from A. fexox.[154],[155]

Bulbine latifolia (L.f.) Roem. et Schult.

Bulbine latifolia (previously Bulbine natalensis) is one of the largest species in the genus Asphodelaceae. It is commonly called geelkopieva or rooiwortel in Afrikaans denoting the red flesh of its root, but the true Xhosa name is ibucu or incelwane. B. latifolia is widely dispersed in the southeastern parts of South Africa. It is widely spread in the Eastern Cape Province and often found in dry river valleys and rocky gorges. Traditionally, powdered tuber of the plant is mixed with a little water to make a yellow cosmetic paste which is applied to the face by men and women in the Eastern Cape Province.[11] The leaf sap is being used by traditional healers to treat wounds, burns, eczema, rashes, and itches. Lazarus reported the antioxidant activity and toxicity of aqueous extract of B. latifolia. The extract exhibited strong reducing power which was even greater than the standard antioxidant butylated hydroxyanisole at the highest concentration (5 mg/ml) investigated and high level of toxicity with LC50 of 4.30 mg/ml was also observed. The anthraquinone; knipholone has been isolated from B. latifolia extracts.[96]

Bauhinia bowkeri Harv.

Bauhinia bowkeri is a tall, graceful shrub with arching stems belonging to the family Fabaceae. The plant is commonly known as Kei Bauhinia, Kei White Bauhinia (English), Keibeesklou (Afrikaans), and umDlandlovu (Xhosa). B. bowkeri is a rare prevalent of the thicket or valley Bushveld region in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. The plant occurs along the Mbashe River margin between Umtata and Butterworth. Traditionally, the plant is used to induce vomiting and also used for steaming and bathing.[21] Acidified 70% acetone leaf extract from B. bowkeri was found to inhibit 2,2-Diphenyl-1-picrylhydrazyl and 2,2'-azino-bis (3-ethylbenzothiazoline-6-sulphonic acid) radical scavenging activity with IC50 values of 19.53 and 14.50 μg/ml, respectively. The cytotoxicity assay of acetone leaf extract on the Vero African green monkey kidney cell lines showed no toxicity up to 25 mg/ml.[95]

Cassipourea flanaganii (Schinz) Alston

C. flanaganii (Rhizophoraceae) is a small uncommon tree found in the forest between King Williams's Town (Eastern Cape) and Southern Kwazulu-Natal. It is commonly called Cape Onionwood (English), Kaapse Uiehout (Afrikaans), and Umemezi (Xhosa). In traditional medicine, the bark of C. flanaganii is mixed with a little water to make a light brown paste that is applied to the face to improve the beauty of women most especially young women. The plant is also used to lighten and improve skin complexion, particularly by the people of Eastern Cape Province.[11] The methanol extract of C. flanaganii was reported to inhibit tyrosinase enzyme between the ranged of 29% and 74% with a higher total phenolic content of 49.45 mg/g. The extract also showed photo-protective effect with sun protection factor values above 15.[99]

Clausena anisata (Willd) Hook.f. ex Benth.

Clausena anisata is a deciduous shrub or small tree, belonging to the Rutaceae family. It is locally referred to as Mkomavikali or Nukamdida (Afrikaans), Horsewood (English), Umnukelambiba (Zulu), and Umtuto (Xhosa). The plant is the only representative of the Clausena genus in tropical Africa and found in forests and forest margins, riverine thickets, and Bushveld in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa.[156] Various parts of the plant are used in traditional medicine for the treatment of numerous disorders and infections including diabetes, fever, indigestion, cough, hemorrhoids, hypotension, hypertension, heart failure, pneumonia, headache, whooping cough, malaria, venereal diseases, sinusitis, wounds, burn, and mouth infections.[9] The leaves, fruits, and stem bark of the plant have been reported as rich in aromatic essential oils. These oils have been implicated in the repellent and insecticidal activities of C. anisata against a number of pests. Several lines of studies have also been conducted on the chemical composition of essential oil from C. anisate.[157],[158],[159] The composition of the oils determined from these studies include E-ocimenone, Z-ocimenone, gamma-terpinene, germacrene D, γ-terpinene, and germacrene-B.[158] The plant and its compound have also been reported for various biological activities such as anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, anticoagulant, antiplasmodial, and analgesic.[104]

Dalbergia obovata E. Mey.

Dalbergia obovata is a climber with charmingly dense clusters of sweet-smelling flowers belonging to the family Fabaceae. It is locally called climbing flat bean (English); bobbejaankoudoring, rankplatboontjie (Afrikaans); isibandhlube, (Zulu); and umzungulu (Xhosa). It occurs in coastal and riverine forest and forest margins as well as wooded slopes and deciduous woodland. This plant is prevalent in the former Transkei and KwaZulu-Natal and is located from the Eastern Cape to Southern Mozambique. Traditionally, it is used as a paste, and the powdered stem of the plant is mixed with water for sore mouths in infants.[33] The aqueous leaves extract of D. obovata exhibited poor activity against several bacteria strains such as Streptococcus mutans, Streptococcus sanguis, Lactobacillus acidophilus, and Porphyromonas gingivalis with MIC values of 1.50, 4.00, 8.00, and 8.00 mg/ml, respectively.[33] However, there has not been any scientific fact about its cosmeceutical efficacy in literature.

Elephantorrhiza elephantina (Burch.) Skeels

Elephantorrhiza elephantina (Fabaceae) belongs to the member of a small and purely African genus represented by nine species on the continent.[160] The word “Elephantorrhiza” means “elephant root” and is originated on the large underground stem which is common to many members of this genus.[161] It is locally known as elephant's root, eland's wattle (English); baswortel, olifantswortel (Afrikaans.); mupangara (Shona); mositsane (Sotho, Tswana); and intolwane (Xhosa, Zulu). E. elephantina is usually widespread, frequently gregarious, and forming huge patches in hot and dry areas in grasslands and open scrub and found in many Southern Africa countries such as Namibia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Mozambique, and South Africa.[161]E. elephantina is a very important plant resource in Southern Africa, where its root is being used in the formulation of commercial herbal medicine for skin ailments, diarrhea, antioxidant, perforated ulcers, and prostrate hypertrophy in South Africa.[162] Locally, the root and rhizome of the plant are taken orally as decoction mixed with Pentanisia prunelloides to treat eczema, fever, and HIV/AIDS opportunistic diseases.[163],[164],[165] Biological activities of E. elephantina reported in the literature include anthelmintic,[18],[166] antibacterial,[41],[167] antifungal,[167] anti-inflammatory and antinociceptive,[112] antiplasmodial,[168] and antioxidant [111] activities. Aaku et al.[169] reported isolated compounds from n-butanol rhizome extracts of E. elephantina. The compounds such as dihydrokaempferol, 1, (−)-catechin 2, kaempferol 3, ethyl gallate 4, gallic acid 5, 2-(3,4-dihydroxyphenyl) ethanol 6, 4-hydroxybenzoic acid 7, ethyl-1-O-β-D-galactopyranoside 8, and quercetin 3-O-β-D-glucopyranoside 9.

Foeniculum vulgare Mill.

Foeniculum vulgare Mill (Apiaceae) is a biennial medicinal and aromatic plant with height of up to 2.5 m with hollow stems. It is commonly called wild fennel (English) and Bobbejaancinkel (Afrikaans). It is usually grown in vegetable and herb garden and found in the Northern, Eastern, and Western provinces of South Africa. Traditionally, the aerial parts of the plant are widely used as galactagogues for improving the milk flow of breastfeeding mothers.[170],[171] In addition to its medicinal uses, the natural light green dye obtained from leaves of F. vulgare is used as a fragrance component in cosmetic products and as a food colorant.[172] Reports from literature have indicated that F. vulgare extracts effectively inhibited numerous infectious disorder of bacterial, fungal, or viral origins.[173],[174]F. vulgare extracts have been reported to exhibited strong antioxidant, antitumor, chemopreventive, cytoprotective, hepatoprotective, hypoglycemic, and estrogenic activities.[117],[175]

Hypoxis hemerocallidea Fisch., C.A. Mey. and Ave-Lall.

Hypoxis hemerocallidea is a beautiful tuberous perennial plant with strap-like leaves and yellow star-shaped flowers belonging to the family Hypoxidaceae. It is locally called yellow start (English) sterblom (Afrikaans); lotsane (S Sotho); iNkomfe (Zulu); and inongwe (Zulu). The plant is usually found in open grassland and woodland and is widely distributed in the eastern summer rainfall provinces such as Eastern Cape, Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Gauteng, and Limpopo. The tuber of H. hemerocallidea is used traditionally to treat kidney problem and high blood pressure and more lately as a commercial product (Moducare™) to treat immune system disorders. In addition, the dried rhizome of the plant is applied by women as a paste to treat acne and conceal pimple.[11] The leaves and corms of the plant have been reported to possess antioxidant, anticonvulsant, and antibacterial activities.[176] The aqueous extract (50–800 mg/kg) of the plant was also found to possess anti-inflammatory and antidiabetic activities when treated with rodents induced with a rat hind paw edema (0.5 mg/kg) and streptozotocin (90 mg/kg), respectively.[177] The activities of this plant are attributed to its main bioactive compounds such as hypoxoside, aglycone derivative, and rooperol.[178]

Ilex mitis (L.) Radik.

Ilex mitis (Aquifoliaceae) is a tall, dense evergreen tree with almost white bark. The plant is locally known as Cape holly, wild holly (English); waterboom and waterhount (Afrikaans); iPhuphuma (Zulu); and umDuma (Xhosa). It is widely distributed in South Africa, growing on the banks of rivers stream, and moist spots in woods and forests. Ethnobotanically, the bark of the plant is used as pastes or decoction applied to treat skin rash.[179] A study by Thibane et al.[99] investigated the antityrosinase activity of I. mitis methanolic leaf extract, where the ability of the extract to inhibit the tyrosinase activity ranged between 29% and 74% and total phenolic content of 44.15 mg GAE/g.

Pentanisia prunelloides (Klotzsch ex Eckl. and Zeyh.)

Pentanisia prunelloides is an erect perennial herb, with stout hairy stems, belonging to the family Rubiaceae. It is locally known as wild verbena and broad-leaved Pentanisia (English); Sooibrandbossie (Afrikaans.); and Icimamlilo (Zulu). It is found in grassland throughout Southern Africa, from Eastern Cape (South Africa) to Tanzania. Traditionally, the root decoctions of the plant are taken orally and also applied externally for burns, swellings, and toothache. From the literature report, the plant has been indicated to possess anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial, and nongenotoxic activities.[60],[111] The phytochemical analysis of the extracts of P. prunelloides was reported to be tannins, terpenoids, alkaloids, saponins, flavonoids, and cardiac glycosides.[180] The compounds isolated from the plant are acetylated, nonacetylated, and tormentic acid.

Rumex lanceolatus Thumb.

Rumex lanceolatus is a perennial plant with a long taproot, belongs to the Polygonaceae family. The plant's common names include the common dock (English); Gladdetongblaar (Afrikaans.); Idolo Lenkonyane (Zulu); and Idolonyana (Xhosa). It is not endemic to South Africa, but it is widely distributed within South Africa most especially in the Eastern, Western, and Northern Cape Provinces. The leaves of the plant are applied typically to treat tumors rash skin.[181],[182] No scientific validation of its cosmeceutical usage has been reported to date despite its usage by the people of Eastern Cape.

Sideroxylon inerme L.

Sideroxylon inerme is a small-to-medium evergreen Southern African coastal tree that belongs to the Sapotaceae family. It is one of South Africa's protected trees and reported to be the only member of the Sideroxylon genus in Southern Africa.[22] Locally, the plant is called white milkwood (English); witmelkhout and melkbessie (Afrikaans.); aMasethole (Xhosa); and aMasethole-amhlope and uMakhwela-fingqane (Zulu). Traditionally, the bark of the plant is used in the form of a paste by most Zulus and Xhosas tribes for skin-lightening purposes.[23] Lall and Kishore [10] reported that methanol and acetone extracts from the stem bark of S. inerme and were found to inhibit monophenolase activity with IC50 values of 63 and 82 μg/ml, respectively. The methanol extract (6.2 μg/ml) also exhibited 37% reduction of melanin content with no significant toxicity to the cells. The compounds (epigallocatechin gallate and procyanidin B1) isolated from the stem bark of S. inerme were found to exhibit monophenolase activity with IC50 values of 30 and >200 μg/ml, respectively.

Solanum incanum L. Ruiz and Pav.

Solanum incanum is an herb or soft-wooded species of nightshade that belongs to the family Solanaceae. The common names include thorn apple, bitter apple, bitter ball, and bitter tomato (English) and umthuma (Xhosa). The plant is distributed throughout Africa. Traditionally, the root and leaves' infusion of the plant is applied topically to treat furuncles and ringworm infections. The infusions of the root and pounded fruits of the plant are also applied externally or rubbed into scarifications, leaf sap is also used for washing painful areas, and ash of burnt plants is mixed with fat and applied externally. From literature, it has been reported that methanol extract of S. incanum showed broad-spectrum antifungal activities and low level of cytotoxicity toward human fetal liver cells at IC50 of 35 μg/ml.[61] The aqueous fruit extract of the plant showed antibacterial activity against Bacillus subtilis, Micrococcus flavus, and P. aeruginosa.[61] The compounds isolated from S. incacum fruits include the alkaloids solasodine and solamargine and the steroidal sapogenins diosgenin and yamogenin.

   Conclusion Top

The cosmetic industry is growing rapidly and apart from traditionally documented applications; some modern trials have also proven the utility of herbs in personal care products. In Eastern Cape Province, the number of people using herbal cosmetics has been rising steadily over the past two decades. This high prevalence deserves special attention toward the use of the medicinal plant for various cosmetic products. Out of the 105 identified medicinal plants traditionally used in the Eastern Cape for the cosmetic purposes, only seventy have been documented scientifically. Considering the rich cultural traditions of plant use and the high prevalence of cosmetic usage in South Africa, more investigations should be encouraged to validate the cosmeceutical usage of the identified plants as claimed by the traditional healers.


The authors would like to express their gratitude to the National Research Foundation and University of Mpumalanga, for financial support to conduct this research.

Financial support and sponsorship

This study was financially supported by National Research Foundation (NRF) (Grant no: 105161).

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

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  [Table 1], [Table 2]


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